Some cemeteries display blooming gardens while others hold cinema nights. But no one has Bruce Miller. Oakwood Cemetery boasts the rights to a great historian whose dedication to little old Raleigh is nothing short of a blessing. Earning his tenure as a most knowledgeable guide to all things Oakwood Cemetery, it was only fitting to etch his memory and name on a street. Miller’s Magnolia Walk houses one of the oldest and famous patrons whose history the eponymous figure knows all too well. Here lies Sophia Patridge, the founder of the Confederate Cemetery at Oakwood, John Haywood, the first Treasurer and Raleigh’s first Intendant of Police (Mayor), and Ellen Mordecai, the author of Gleanings from Long Ago of the Mordecai family whose plantation bears a short walk a few blocks away.
On a Friday afternoon, Miller accompanied the Raleigh Governor’s Mansion docents through the maze of streets and stones. From far away, one would assume that this tour is rather quiet and normal. But Miller’s demeanor and presence turned even the most intriguing chit chat to a halt with his abundance of never ending wisdom. A true cognoscenti of his time, he never fails to enlighten the crowd with facts intertwined with lighthearted humor. If there is such a thing as a walking encyclopedia then he is it!
As the storyteller introduces each patron and their tale, one cannot help but wonder how this man can remember so much. The theme of the day revolved around the governors and state officials of Raleigh. From Robert Watson Winston to Charles Brantley Aycock, Miller’s genteel Southern introduction brings the past a bit closer to the present. At certain points, he goes on a first name basis with patrons. One can only surmise that given the chance, they would return the favor and tell their own stories about the man himself.
Throwing in a few unrelated tombs and their origins, the crowd hung on his every word as curiosity peaked. As revolutions around the former first park of Raleigh were made, the tour ended with the trademark humble Bruce Miller philosophy as capturing the “spirit of the place” and making a small contribution to a lively place. Miller is no stranger to the plenty of tours and even lectures at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Oakwood to Oakwood which can be purchased at Oakwood Cemetery for $15. A huge investment of time and research was spent on learning and collecting facts and anecdotes about the people and through his generosity, all proceeds go to the cemetery. The book provides an insight on past figures whose influence on the neighborhood remains a great feat to this day. As Miller puts it, the book kindly depicts, “The lives and homes of people who lived in or developed Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood — and stayed.”
Ever think about walking in the cemetery at night? Doesn’t it give you chills? Well, for those who are into the walking sans the feeling of shadows looming enjoyed a mild and family oriented annual Lantern Walk at Oakwood Cemetery. Processions of cars and an intrigued audience lined the pathways into the cemetery waiting for the night to come alive. Short, historical vignettes set against the beautiful backdrop of swaying oaks and Southern magnolias told visitors about life and death during the Civil War as the country felt the division between the Union and the Confederates. Along the path, luminaries revealed characters in period attire as each story unfolds into poignant and heartwarming moments. Soldiers spoke of lost friends while returning veterans found comfort in Southern hospitality and reflection years later. But a thematic approach to the storytelling consisted of laughter and empathy in scenes where Confederate and Union soldiers united in soft quibs at one another and end in a knowing of a shared humanity and camaraderie.
Around 1400 Confederate veterans rest in this part of the cemetery with a few Union veterans close by. Tours took a good hour and each group trekked up the hill every 15 minutes with their guides. A fond tradition, the tour is hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with acting by local re-enactors and volunteers. Proceeds help Oakwood in the efforts to restore the Confederate Cemetery.